The Avatar Is Present
As life IRL gets increasingly worse, and art institutions and exhibitions close their doors to the public, people are turning to the digital world to get their cultural fix. This includes Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the video game du jour of the social distancing era, which has become the unlikely site for an innovative art project that showcases recreations of artworks by Marina Abramović, Barbara Kruger, Christo, Jeanne-Claude, and more.
Installation artist Shing Yin Khor has transformed her Animal Crossing island into a digital art gallery, which has attracted hoards of visitors since its official ‘opening’ last week. Among the artworks on display is a text piece inspired by Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled”, which, instead of “your body is a battleground”, amusingly reads, “your turnips are a battleground”. Khor has also built a rendition of Jeanne-Claude’s installation piece “The Umbrellas” and a version of Chris Burden’s “Urban Light”, a large-scale sculpture made of repurposed streetlights from the 1920s and 30s.
The piece de resistance, however, has to be her video game recreation of Abramović’s career-defining performance piece “The Artist Is Present”, where Khor’s avatar (dressed as Abramović) sat for an hour at a table across from an empty chair, inviting fellow users to join her.
Speaking to artnet, Khor said: “I think ‘The Artist is Present’ in Animal Crossing especially resonated with people in this particular time where we are so isolated from other people. Lots of people said that the experience was surprisingly emotional. The simple act of sitting in a chair and staring at another person without speaking is still a moving experience, even if mediated by the internet and a video game.”
But Khor isn’t the only one using Animal Crossing for self-expression. Joshua Wong, the leader of the 2014 umbrella movement against Chinese authoritarianism, has been holding virtual protests on his island to protest censorship in Hong Kong.